The year 2010 may just be Mark Zuckerberg’s finest. Having his net worth more than triple to $6.9 billion, he has climbed the ranks of the Forbes 400 list from #158 to #35. He even knocked Steve Jobs off the throne of Geekdom as Vanity Fair proclaimed him “our new Caesar” by placing him at #1 in its 100 most influential people of the New Establishment. And this month, a biopic based on his dramatic founding of Facebook is coming out. Thing is, he’s only 26 years old.
The Facebook CEO is portrayed as a punkish antihero in The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich’s dramatic retelling of the genesis of Facebook, which The Social Network is based on. David Kirkpatrick’s The Facebook Effect hails him as a genius of our generation who revolutionized the way we interact with each other. Love him or loathe him, one thing’s for sure, Zuckerberg exudes a peculiar sort of charisma.
The youngest self-made billionaire ever, he still lives in a rented house shared with his girlfriend, and has stuck to his trademark hoodie in every public appearance. In the movie, he is portrayed as borderline autistic. It may be an over-dramatization, but Zuckerberg is well known to be socially awkward. He speaks really fast, often coming across as nervous, but his words carry solid weight and a dead-sure conviction. That is the essence of Zuckerberg’s charisma.
Mark’s steadfast and uncompromising vision for Facebook was key to its success today and also a source of much frustration to his colleagues. The Facebook Effect reports that Mark has always been adamant about maintaining an enjoyable user experience over revenue. He holds the majority of the company’s board of director seats in order to grow Facebook in accordance with his vision. His dictatorship-like authority over the direction of the company kept it from being sold to Yahoo! in 2006 and being bogged down by ads. But it may also have been behind the reason for the departure of co-founders Dustin Moskowitz and Chris Hughes as Facebook grew.
Aptly timed before the release of The Social Network, the Facebook CEO went on Oprah announcing a donation of $100 million worth of Facebook shares to the Newark school system. Critics think it’s a pre-emptive move to protect his image. Having read The Accidental Billionaires, I doubt the film will do Mark’s reputation much harm. Depicted as a gifted hacker with a disregard for the norms of social institutions, Zuckerberg comes across as a modern-day Byronic hero, albeit without the womanizing. It might actually propel him to rock-star status (at least in Geekdom). However Zuckerberg does have reasons to be afraid for his reputation. Earlier this year, Silicon Alley Insider got hold of an old instant message log detailing an exchange between Zuckerberg and a friend when he was still in Harvard. In the conversation, Mark called Facebook users "dumb fucks" for "trusting" him. Zuckerberg later apologized in an interview with The New Yorker, citing his immaturity at that time.
User trust is the cornerstone of Facebook’s stellar success. The willingness of users to share their personal information on Facebook has made it the world’s most comprehensive database.
Check back next week to find out how every bit of info you give Facebook makes it the most lucrative Internet start-up ever known to mankind.